Headaches are a common ailment experienced by most of us at some point in our life. For a few, headaches are a daily occurrence and can be so severe that it affects daily functioning. Most headaches are tension headaches and should not be confused with migraines.
A headache may arise at any time, for no known reason or there may be known trigger factors. The pain may be sudden or start gradually, intensifying over time, and can last for hours, days or weeks or disappear suddenly.
Causes of Headaches
There may be no known cause for tension headaches. In most cases, headaches can be linked to muscle stiffness and tension, particularly of the neck, back and head muscles. There is also a link to stress and exertion which may be a result of muscle tension or fluctuations in the brain chemicals.
Other risk factors for a headache includes depression, teeth grinding and poor posture when working and sleeping. High blood pressure does not often cause headaches although in some cases, it may be a contributing factor. A lack of sleep, poor eating habits, certain drugs, alcohol and loud noises and bright lights may also trigger a headache.
Signs and Symptoms
Usually tension headaches are a mild to moderate dull pain on the front, top, sides or back of the head. There may also be neck and back pain and noticeable muscle stiffness. Pressure on the area will reveal tender spots which may aggravate or ease the headache.
Headaches may cause nausea, vomiting, irritability, changes in vision and fatigue. At times, the pain may be accompanied by high blood pressure. In these instances, it is usually not the elevated blood pressure that causes the headaches but it is the body’s pain response that triggers an increase in the blood pressure.
If you are experiencing repeated bouts of headaches or pain that is affecting your daily life, then you should consult with a doctor or neurologist. Depending on the severity of your case and other clinical findings, your doctor may require further tests and investigation – like an x-ray and head CT scan. If there is an indication of other conditions, your doctor may investigate these possible causes and run the appropriate tests.
Headaches are not always due to cancer – a common fear among sufferers. Only a small proportion of patients with frequent headaches may have a tumour in the brain and this should not be considered as the first possible cause of your headache. However if you are experiencing a fever, an infection like meningitis is also a possibility, if the other signs and symptoms are also present.
Analgesics (painkillers) are usually effective in managing a headache. In severe cases, a mild sedative may have to be used as well. The treatment of a headache should focus on the cause if it can be identified. Apart from addressing stress, depression and lifestyle factors, muscle tension may also require muscle relaxant drugs.
Physiotherapy and chiropractic treatment may be useful in reducing muscle stiffness and will require multiple treatment sessions before there is any relief. There is no cure although a change in lifestyle, avoiding the known triggers and stress management can be useful in reducing the severity and frequency of tension headaches.